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Sleeper of the Week: ‘Krisha’

Sleeper of the Week: 'Krisha'

Sleeper of the Week takes a film that only few critics have seen and shines some light on it.

Dir: Trey Edward Shults
Criticwire Average: A-

Seeing as even the best directors often need a couple features under their belt to develop their voice, it’s always a cause of celebration when a debut feature comes around that signals a new talent right off the bat. For those looking for a powerful directorial debut, there’s Trey Edward Shults’ “Krisha,” a Cassavetes-esque drama centered on the eponymous Krisha (Krisha Fairchild) who attends Thanksgiving with her family after not seeing them for a decade. Critics have raved about the film’s abiding sense of chaos, how it’s borne out of minor incidents and tiny misunderstandings, along with the film’s bracing psychological portrait of a wounded woman returning to her humble beginnings. Based on a short film as well as numerous real-life incidents, “Krisha” examines a breakdown in real time, using its 83-minute running time to its advantage, and how a tense, charged atmosphere can be just the necessary pressure cooker for someone to let loose their various grievances. Don’t be surprised if “Krisha” stands as one of the best American indie films of the year.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

Few movies bore into a character’s head as deeply as “Krisha,” and with such uncompromising ferocity. A family drama in alternately appalling and queasily hilarious extremis, this bravura first feature takes place over an epically terrible Thanksgiving that may inspire you to start leafing through the collected poems of Philip Larkin, looking for that one about Mum and Dad. It takes some time to grasp who wronged whom here, but it’s clear from the get go that serious damage has been done. The young director Trey Edward Shults suggests as much by opening with a close-up of Krisha (played by the director’s aunt Krisha Fairchild) staring into the camera, her lined, tanned face framed by a mass of springy gray hair that might as well be a mess of snakes. She’s isolated in the shot, and, as she continues to stare and the eerie music gets to shrieking, you might think — it won’t be for the first time — that this looks and feels a lot like a horror movie. Though it’s one, after a fashion and too many drinks, that finally owes more to the likes of John Cassavetes than the usual genre influences. Read more.

A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club

Named for its central agent of chaos, herself named for the terrific unknown actress who plays her, “Krisha” may be the most explosive family-reunion drama since Jonathan Demme’s “Rachel Getting Married” — another film, incidentally, about a difficult, destructive relative seeking forgiveness, even as she teeters on the precipice of a relapse. But in this even smaller project, expanded from a short into a first feature by writer-director Trey Edward Shults, tensions don’t just rise with tempers; they’re woven into the very fabric of the film’s style. Take, for example, the film’s second shot, which depicts the arrival of our heroine (Krisha Fairchild): In a single, winding take, she crosses the driveways and manicured lawns of a suburban neighborhood, muttering nervously to herself until she finds the right house. Shults doesn’t even cut when Krisha is finally ushered inside and greeted one at a time by the family. He just sits on the moment, basking in the discomfort. Unfolding across an especially long and awkward Thanksgiving Day, “Krisha” creates an audio-visual language of social anxiety; it’s practically a horror movie about the horror of being the unwanted guest at the party. Almost every stylistic choice—most of them quite dynamic, especially for a first-time director—has been made to serve Krisha’s subjective perspective, her “jumpiness.” Rhythmic montages of activity, scored to the atonal plucks of Brian McOmber’s sinister score, somehow turn the mundane activities of a holiday get-together—preparing the meal; watching the big game; horsing around in the yard—into sources of unease. These are private family rituals, not for interlopers. Likewise, several conversations are shot from eavesdropping distance, the camera creeping down hallways or lingering in doorways. “Krisha” keeps Krisha always on the outside, unable to participate. Read more.

Justin Chang, Variety

Krisha is greeted warmly enough (perhaps a bit too warmly), and she reciprocates with an eagerness to make herself useful, putting herself to work in the kitchen while Robyn heads out to fetch their wheelchair-bound mother (Billie Fairchild, Shults’ grandmother). As Krisha sets about gutting the turkey, Shults whips the character’s movements into a montage of high anxiety, his swift edits keeping time with the chop-chop-chop of the knife and the percolating rhythms of Brian McOmber’s score. By the time the music fades, the cutting slows and the mood relaxes, it’s clear that “Krisha” means to reveal its protagonist’s perspective not through exposition, but in the very texture of the filmmaking — varying its syntax so as to draw us ever deeper into one woman’s profound sense of alienation from those around her. Shults’s approach craftily favors observation over exposition, and he proves as attentive to Krisha’s surroundings as he is to her inner life; we’re made continually aware of the teenagers laughing and goofing off in the background, along with the numerous dogs roaming the property, all of them enjoying the day with enviably carefree abandon. Meanwhile, old resentments spark between Krisha and an ornery, outspoken relative, Doyle (a hilarious Bill Wise), in a long, varied and remarkably improvised conversation that unfolds loosely throughout the film’s first half. But perhaps her most awkward and telling interaction occurs with Trey (Shults), a quiet young college student whom she approaches with the insistent warmth of an old friend, yet who obviously wants nothing to do with her. Read more.

Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian

There are no shortage of movies about self-destructive behavior, but what sets Krisha apart is Krisha herself. Nothing against him, but if this movie starred the very talented John Hawkes it would already be one step toward old hat. We’ve seen that story before. To cast an older woman with an un-Hollywood body type is itself something of a revolutionary act. Her performance matched with Shults’ unique shooting and editing make this winner of the 2015 South By Southwest grand jury prize one of the essential independent films of the year. That it likely also doubles as therapy for the entire Shults family is a happy residual for them. Read more.

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